TES NEWS, Volume 4, Number 3, August 1995

Sojourner Truth: A 19th Century Traveling Advocate for Civil Rights

by Kelli Mellgren and Ken Edgett, ASU

Sojourner Truth was a deeply spiritual antislavery and women's rights activist who traveled widely in New England and the Midwestern U.S. to speak on these issues. She was known for her deep voice, quick wit, and even deeper faith and conviction.

She was born Isabella Baumfree around the year 1797 in Ulster County, New York. Her exact date of birth is unknown, because she was born into slavery. She had many different owners, her last was Isaac Van Wagener. About the time she was freed, one of her sons was sold illegally into slavery in Alabama. With much determination and a lawsuit against the man who sold her son, she eventually got him back.

Isabella Van Wagener changed her name in 1843 to Sojourner Truth. Answering what she considered to be a calling from God, she joined the Methodist Church and became a traveling evangelist. From then on, she "traveled up and down the land," speaking in many towns in the northeast and midwest on women's rights and against slavery. She supported her travels by selling copies of her book, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth U.S. postage stamp, issued 1986.

In the 1850's, Sojourner Truth settled in Battle Creek, Michigan. During the U.S. Civil War, she helped gather supplies for African-American volunteer army regiments. In 1864 she moved to Washignton, D.C. There she met with President Lincoln and encouraged him not to worry about his critics, but instead proceed with his plan to abolish slavery. In Washington, she was appointed to the National Freedmen's Relief Association to help council ex-slaves, and she worked to help desegregate streetcars in the District of Columbia. An advocate for women's suffrage, in 1872 she tried to vote for the re-election of President U.S. Grant, but was denied the opportunity.

She moved back to Battle Creek, Mich., in 1875. She died in her home in November 1883. In 1986, she was honored on a U.S. commemorative postage stamp. In 1995, she has again been honored by having the Mars Pathfinder microrover named for her. The Sojourner rover will "travel up and down" on the Red Planet during the approximate bicentennial year of her birth.

Sojourner Truth Reading List

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